Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hooking Freebies on Panama City Beach

WaPo's style reporter, Libby Copeland, writes today about the aggressive commercial marketing that infects Panama City Beach every year at Spring Break. The "ocean of promotion," she calls it. Copeland seems alternately amused and alarmed, but mostly thoroughly disgusted.

The alarming parts are easy to spot through the reporter's faux tone of exited wonderment --
Behold, the marketers of spring break have descended, transforming the beach into a corporate wonderland. There's a Geico gaming tent and a Neutrogena spa, and the Trojan booth offers pina-colada-scented oxygen you can inhale through a tube. There's free mouthwash and chewing tobacco, free sunblock and tampons, and after a free massage, you can make a delightful lunch out of Jack Link's beef jerky and 180 energy drink. So very free!
The snarky parts show up when she contrasts the 'natural' way Spring Break is supposed to be with the artificial marketing orgy it has become--
Some folks might believe that youthful revelry occurs naturally, the way rocks are slowly worn down to sand, but it turns out that's not true. During spring break, at least, lusty excess must be carefully planned. Who makes the machinery of this annual celebration turn, bringing in the hot salesgirls and organizing events overseen by bawdy emcees? Who schedules a "J-Lo Booty Shakin' Contest" to promote a new perfume?

The marketers, that's who.

Look over there! As part of a "Sand Castle Demolition" contest, a squirming heap of spring breakers are scrambling for bottles of Vitamin Water hidden in the sand. They emerge with sand all over their chins.

Even the U.S. Army, no surprise, is muscling in on the selling bonanza:
Above the Venus Breeze banners floating proudly on the wind, above the Def Leppard wailing from the speakers (pour some sugar on maaay), a lone parachuter spins and spirals across the sky, spewing a majestic trail of red smoke. Then there are more parachuters, and more, all members of the Army's Golden Knights, trailing yellow parachutes that say ARMY. The spring breakers gather around and squint up, watching the golden creatures float to the sand like gods.

"If you want to find out more," a voice says over a loudspeaker, "GoArmy.com."
Do you suppose the kids who do Spring Break on Panama City Beach are so besotted with raging hormones and alcohol (or worse) that they actually might fall for this stuff and trade Panama City Beach for Baghdad? Might be.

One clue that the marketers really are on to something is hidden in the boastful reminiscence of Matt Britton, "chief of brand development for a company called Mr. Youth." Now more than a decade out of college, Britton confesses that he still uses --
a credit card he signed up for in college to nab a free T-shirt. "That's college marketing at its finest," Britton says.
The hidden part, we're guessing, is that Britton is so deeply in debt on that card he can't afford to quit his shitty job. Why else would a mature, obviously intelligent guy like him agree to endure Spring Break in Panama City Beach every year?

WaPo also has a video of Britton extolling the profit opportunities presented by a beach full of nearly naked, mostly drunk young people. He can be insightful and engagingly candid, as when he tells the camera that at age 32 he thinks he's too "old" for this; or when he reflects --
"Our culture has a way of, y'know, year by year really lowering cultural standards in every institution and marketing is no different."
Still, our favorite part is buried deep down in Copeland's article where she describes how local Panama City Beach residents are handling the marketing blitz. They're becoming what is known in corporate circles as "opportunity seekers." (As another voice on the video explains, that's usually a marketers' resentful phrase applied to the smarter college students "who go to events just to get the free T-shirts.")

Writes Copeland:
The loot accumulates as if splitting off from itself, amoeba-style. One guy has four hats and three T-shirts. A college senior named Tori Voorhees makes off with an entire case of Vitamin Water.

Even the senior citizens want a piece. An old guy with a cane limps off toward a condo with two energy drinks and a bag of skin-care samples.
We're on the old guy's side. Like him, perhaps, we've always made it a point of principle not to wear clothes with someone else's name on it unless they're paying us for the advertising space. But free energy drinks and skin-care products? We'll take two, please.

1 comment:

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